He stopped suddenly and strained his eyes in the dark. Then he whistled a sharp, sliding note, and the sound of it gave me some hint of his trouble.
‘Git down, Willie,’ said he, ‘an’ tek my hand. I’m ’fraid we’re lost here ‘n the big woods.’
We groped about for a minute, trying to find the trail.
‘No use,’ he said presently, ‘we’ll hev t’ stop right here. Oughter known berter ‘n t’ come through s’ near sundown. Guess it was more ‘n anybody could do.’
He built a fire and began to lay out a supper for us then, while Fred sat down by me to be relieved of his bundles. Our supper was rather dry, for we had no water, but it was only two hours since we left the spring, so we were not suffering yet Uncle Eb took out of the fire a burning brand of pine and went away into the gloomy woods, holding it above his head, while Fred and I sat by the fire.
‘’S lucky we didn’t go no further,’ he said, as he came in after a few minutes. ’There’s a big prec’pice over yender. Dunno how deep ’t is. Guess we’d a found out purty soon.’
He cut some boughs of hemlock, growing near us, and spread them in a little hollow. That done, we covered them with the oilcloth, and sat down comfortably by the fire. Uncle Eb had a serious look and was not inclined to talk or story telling. Before turning in he asked me to kneel and say my prayer as I had done every evening at the feet of my mother. I remember, clearly, kneeling before my old companion and hearing the echo of my small voice there in the dark and lonely woods.
I remember too, and even more clearly, how he bent his head and covered his eyes in that brief moment. I had a great dread of darkness and imagined much evil of the forest, but somehow I had no fear if he were near me. When we had fixed the fire and lain down for the night on the fragrant hemlock and covered ourselves with the shawl, Uncle Eb lay on one side of me and old Fred on the other, so I felt secure indeed. The night had many voices there in the deep wood. Away in the distance I could hear a strange, wild cry, and I asked what it was and Uncle Eb whispered back, ’ ’s a loon.’ Down the side of the mountain a shrill bark rang in the timber and that was a fox, according to my patient oracle. Anon we heard the crash and thunder of a falling tree and a murmur that followed in the wake of the last echo.
‘Big tree fallin’!’ said Uncle Eb, as he lay gaping. ‘It has t’ break a way t’ the ground an’ it must hurt. Did ye notice how the woods tremble? If we was up above them we could see the hole thet tree hed made. Jes’ like an open grave till the others hev filed it with their tops.’
My ears had gone deaf with drowsiness when a quick stir in the body of Uncle Eb brought me back to my senses. He was up on his elbow listening and the firelight had sunk to a glimmer. Fred lay shivering and growling beside me. I could hear no other sound.